It was a glorious memorial, an exemplar of a kind of opulent grief that is rarely done well and can only be achieved with the correct proportions of sorrow, guilt, and money.
Horses with black plumes atop their bridles drew coaches made somber with dark drapery. Bleak-faced coachmen wore their most formal livery with black bands freshly stitched on the right sleeve. The stately pace of the procession was slow enough for everyone to get a good stare at the occupants of the coaches in their fine black velvets and silks.
Kate Langford wasn’t usually a gawker, but this was quite the occasion. She had a good spot too, at a window with a clear view of the main entrance of the cathedral, where the coaches stopped to let off the mourners. Her company was somewhat distracting—he stood behind her, one hand tracing the round of her breast through the thin cotton of her chemise, and the other searching under the hem of that same garment. When she half-heartedly protested, he noted that no one would bother to look up at them with all the drama occurring below and, as an afterthought, took her hand and helpfully placed it directly on his exposed crotch.
Kate didn’t mind. The sheer curtains and the possibility of being seen, the inappropriateness of their behavior in front of such a solemn spectacle, and the deliciously wet sound of their slow mutual stroking—not a bad start to a busy day of work.
“Such a shame he’s gone,” she mused. “He was a nice chap to look at, though they say he wasn’t much interested in what a girl like me could do for him.”
“I’m interested,” her companion replied unsteadily as her grip tightened around him. “Storm God’s lightning, your hands are a religious experience.”
Kate rolled her eyes, but doubled her efforts. Sebastian Talbert was a decent sort—not a noble Talbert, mind you, merely an ambitious young merchant from a commoner branch—but he tended to talk too much, as if desperate to impress her. She had been having such a good time, but now she only wanted him to shut up, get his pleasure, and be on his way so she could move on to her next appointment. Her schedule had never been so busy before, but she had big plans, and expenses to cover.
“Down there.” said Sebastian. “Looks like they can see us, after all. Let’s give them a good show.”
Kate saw a group of young men clustered around a statue of the Goat God, but they seemed preoccupied with their own sad thoughts. She suspected Sebastian was only using them as an excuse. “Fine, but that’s extra, you know,” she warned him.
He tore her chemise down, baring both breasts, and rutted eagerly behind her as her hands fought for purchase on the slippery curtains and the cold windowsill. By now he was unable to speak, and Kate could enjoy herself at last. This was the easy bit—thrash about, pant, moan, and maybe slip in a few meaningless endearments until he spent himself. How excited he had become, imagining himself performing for the crowd below! She could use that . . . maybe divide one of her larger rooms with a lace curtain, put a bed on one side and several chairs and couches on the other? Being heard, being almost seen. She could charge a lot for that, both the participants and the audience.
Furniture, new curtains and furnishings . . . it all added up. She did wonder what her aunt would have thought of this fate for the house she had willed to Kate, but why waste opportunity? She refused to bring her work to where she slept. Some things had to be kept safe, sacred. Houses could be burned. People could be killed.
She watched the great door of the cathedral and the mourners gliding in with a measured, respectful pace appropriate to the occasion. Pity Madeline and Tess weren’t here, but she’d tell them all about it in the evening.
Sebastian finished at last, howling loudly enough for two of the students to finally notice them, notice her, framed behind window glass, half hanging through the curtains in a tangle of rumpled cambric and mussed hair. One glanced with a brief sneer and looked away. The other gazed a little longer, maybe envious, definitely curious, possibly considering his own inevitable passing and moments yet to be seized before death. She tucked her hair back and grinned invitingly at him.
Everyone dies in the end, young or old, rich or poor. Might as well make it count while you can.
A fortnight earlier, the main topic of discussion had been the brutal beating of Florian Larue.
“Heartbreaking, Lily called it,” Madeline said, her lip curling. “I told her not to be so soft, but to be fair that’s probably why she’s a nurse and I work with needle and scissors.”
“Those foreign boys should have killed him,” Kate said callously. “A Riversider wouldn’t have let him...